2 Reviews: Untitled Game and Ego Image Shooter

Untitled Game CD by JODI
Review by Anne-Marie Schleiner

Untitled Game is a CD (and web site) containing twelve modifications of
Quake by artist ensemble JODI. The first modification, "Arena", is
blinding white.  All visible architecture has been eliminated. What
remains is interface components and sound.  The following mods range in
interactivity and effect, from number stats flowing  upscreen to ambient
warm toned 3-D environments.

Game Engine = Artist Tool

Like other artists including Nullpointer and Retroyou, JODI have immersed
themselves in exploring game engines as art generating tools. (Different
artists have been staking out different commercial engines as their
mediums--more recently the Australian web site, "Select Parks," has
collected artist-made mods.)  JODI have become intimately familiar with
the file structure of Quake 1,  its code structure and algorithms, and its
loopholes and glitches.  Time++ has been logged  "playing" with the
system, just as Nato addicts and V.J.s spend hours tweaking sound and
3-D/2-D visuals, happening sometimes on interesting accidental effects.

Unlike ID Software, the original designers of Quake, JODI  search for
beautiful bugs in the system, to make glitches happen that werent supposed
to, to tweak the game, even to demolish it.   When I push the spacebar to
jump in E1M1AP instead the world rotates uncontrollably.  In G-R the
screen refreshes non-stop with bright RGB colors, (no navigation at all).
In Ctrl-9 and Ctrl-Space, navigation and looking about generate
undulating black and white moire patterns.

Hacker Art Aesthetic

Despite the different ways that JODI "break" Quake, their work remains in
dialogue with the original game.   Hacker art tweaks a system yet retains
ontological aspects of the system from which it mutated.  In their earlier
SOD mod, a mod of the classic shooter Castle Wolfenstein, JODI replaced
Wolfenstein's Nazi castle with black and white Miro-like panels. Yet they
still chose to retain the original sound bytes of dogs barking and
soldiers yelling.  Similarly, in the game mods included in Untitled Game,
many of the original macho Quake grunts are still included.  These
original audio samples recall indexically in the player's minds eye the
original Quake levels and characters. A ghost image of the original
flickers behind the alteration, evoked by sound and interface artifacts.

Created not only for art aficionados but also for rabid Quake fans,
habitual Quake players can even navigate "blind" through some of the
levels included in Untitled Game.  In Slipgate, (slipgates are an original
feature of Quake), small blue cubes are formidable growling opponents.

Revealing Algorithms

One aesthetic maneuver repeated in the Untitled Game collection,
reminiscent of JODI's net art, is to strip the environment of "realistic"
graphics, to reduce anti-aliased pixels and color palettes to primary
minimalist colors and shapes.  Stripped of all pretense of photorealism,
game play is reduced to algorithms normally cloaked as "representational"
actions.  ("Rez", a Japanese Playstation2 game, is the only commercial
3-D game I have seen which emphasizes movement algorithms and
"cyber-representation" over "photorealistic" representation.) And these
bare algorithms can be quite stunning.  My most favorite mod on Untitled
Game is "Spawn".  In Spawn, shooting is transformed into spraying showers
of gray pixels over an inky black background.  Shooting becomes pixel
painting, which in turn creates environment.


Another primary component of JODI's mods is tension between user control
and program control. The relationship between user input and program
output has been tweaked.  The time it takes for the program to execute a
command seems to have been elongated and refracted, so my smallest actions
become triggers of algorithms that then unfold semi-autonomously from my
input.   Q-L is the most semi-automatic mod on Untitled.  Once the player
views the preset level demo and actually starts to play the game, the
players movements trigger kaleidoscopic effects which accelerate fast and
taper off slowly.  Similarly, in E1M1AP, when I hit the space bar to jump,
I summersault into an extended disorienting twirl.  Output far exceeds
input. Or the program becomes the performer, I am no longer player god in
control--I must concede some of my agency to the code.

Untitled Game is an exploration of the Quake system and some variable,
funny, playful, beautiful Jodiesque things it can be made to do. Untitled
Game also participates in a dialogue about 3-D gaming environments and
what they can possibly become. (Unlike recent game inspired paintings or
sculptures that speak exclusively to art audiences.)  Although singularly
not every mod on Untitled Game stands up on its own, when viewed as a
complete package, (pak file  ;) ), the UG archive is impressive.

Untitled Game Site http://untitled-game.org/
Untitled Game Source Code http://untitled-game.org/source/
Nullpointer http://www.nullpointer.co.uk/-/fskn.htm
Retroyou http://retroyou.org/
Rez http://www.u-ga.com/rez/e/game/index.html
Select Parks http://www.selectparks.net/
Opensorcery.net http://www.opensorcery.net

Ego Image Shooter by Marion Strunk and Deanna Herst
Review by Anne-Marie Schleiner

Ego Image Shooter is a new game by Marion Strunk and Deanna Herst
(concept/design) created for Gender Games, an Swiss research initiative
for exploring gender in relation to computer games.  Of the five "games"
created for Gender Games, which are available from their web site, Ego
Image Shooter is certainly the most entertaining and the most "game-like".
(Others severely stretch the definition of computer game and are more akin
to hypertext net art.)  Ego Image Shooter critiques the genre of shooter
games in a number of playful ways.

At game start-up, a blond American avatar with a strong hick accent
announces that he will be your guide.   Reminiscent of white trash
backwoods characters in shooter games like Duke Nukem, this boyish avatar
is relatively less macho, sporting a pasty smile permanently glued to his
face. The game consists of five levels, which the player selects by
rotating the bullet chamber of a gun-like interface.  Alternately the
player can click on the weapon in the bottom left of the screen to choose
a level--each level has a different weapon identified with it, ranging
from shot gun to automatic.  Clearly, from the outset, the game draws the
player's conscious attention to shooters and their weapons.

Each of the five levels is an entirely new environment.  In one level the
player faces a bleak hallway recalling the tunneling architecture of
shooter games.  However, as s/he shoots, instead of bullets, frogs stream
out of her weapon.  Eventually a frog prince appears and morphs into a
giant pair of kissing lip. In another level, in a burning apocolyptic
blaze, a hoard of translucent cybernetic mummies slowly advance toward the
player.  They are truly frightening.  But when they reach the player two
of the mummies turn their heads towards each other and lock themselves
into a mind altering homoerotic kiss which even melts the environment
behind them. (Very dreamy!) My favorite level is an imitation Quake level,
replete with the deep grunts and echoes common in violent network shooter
Quake.  The level also uses the typical warm desert sienna color palette
common in the Quake Series.  But when the player shoots his gun, purple
flowers come out instead of bullets, covering the screen and obliterating
the Quake-like environment.

Although Ego Image Shooter is created with Macromedia Director as a
Shockwave Movie, it implements the "find and replace" subversive logic of
game modifications. (game-programming: Alex Schaub). Game mods allow
players to selectively replace elements in a pre-existing game, from
architecture, to textures, weapons, characters, sounds and so on. By
consistently replacing bullets with unexpected frogs, flowers and kisses,
Ego Image Shooter seems to be critiquing the testosterone-laden world of
shooter games by inserting "feminine" signifiers which substitute for the
spray of "semen-like" weapon discharge.  (An interesting comparison is a
"Sailor Moon" modification of Doom.  The Sailor Moon "wad" recolored the
walls and floors in pink, replaced the gun with a magic boomerang, and
replaced the ammo littering the environment with cupcakes and bunnies.)

But it is also undeniably fun to spray frogs and, in a different level,
soccer balls out of a gun. Shooting is painting the environment.  Perhaps
another intent of Ego Image Shooter is too stretch the boundaries of the
often too rigid shooter genre--not only to critique but to mutate into a
new kind of shooter game. Often the game engine takes control away from
the player--after shooting off a few rounds of frogs, a movie of a morphing
frog prince appears.  It is as if the game demands us to be aware of the
conventions of game play by working against them. It wrests control away
from the player just at the moment she is warming up to a shooting frenzy.

The remaining levels in the game are less open to interpretation,
departing even further from the conventions of shooter game play. (They
also seem to require more development and beta-testing in terms of game
play.) In one level,  the player watches passively as a pair of men kick a
soccer ball back and forth and a woman sits working alone at a computer
workstation.  In another level, a string of laundry displays T-shirts that
say pride, fear, happy, shame and other emotions. The laundry is quite an
uncommon domestic signifier in computer games.  In this level a male and
female jogger compete with one another and it seems the  T-shirts are
intended to effect their relationship.

Ego Image Shooter is an interesting experiment. In pushing the boundaries
of a game genre it thereby assumes the risks of experimenting with new
forms of game play. If I were to view it as a beta test I would recommend
it focus in more on the effects of subverting the shooter genre, which are
quite successful in terms of game play and genderplay, and let some of the
other experimental game play interfaces go. Its main shortcomings are what
all independently funded games lack, a development team of at least
fifteen or so 3-D modelers and programmers, to push the production value
higher. Nevertheless, it simulates 3-D space efficiently enough to get the
idea across and employs some very nice interface tricks. The use of sound
and music is effective. (sound-design: Alex Schaub) I would like to see it
developed further.

Gender Game Site http://www.gendergame.ch
Ego Image Shooter